The Symbolism Of Words In Shakespeare's Macbeth

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Many words can be found in Shakespeare’s plays that have different meanings today than they did at the time the plays were written. Reviewing the definitions Shakespeare would have been familiar with can offer valuable insight to the mechanisms of his plays. For example, “milk” today is usually thought of as the liquid that comes from mammals. When Shakespeare wrote Macbeth, however, “milk” also referred to “something pleasant and held to be nourishing to the mind or spirit.” In saying that Macbeth “is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness,” Lady Macbeth is saying that she fears Macbeth is softhearted and compassionate (1.5.18). A few lines later, Lady Macbeth states that Macbeth has ambition, but no “illness,” or the brutal qualities needed…show more content…
“Come to my woman’s breasts, / And take my milk for gall,” highly juxtaposes the two characters (1.5.48-49). While Lady Macbeth, when speaking of her husband, uses “milk” to say that he is too caring, she calls on the spirits to “take [her] milk for gall,” or turn her “milk” sour and make it into bile. Here Lady Macbeth shows the audience that while she knows that her husband is benevolent, she wishes to become malevolent, and will do whatever it takes to secure glory for herself and her husband, even if it means turning her kindness into wickedness. Lady Macbeth’s renouncement of her “milk” also gives way to the theme of gender roles in Macbeth, and how Macbeth, the male role, is more compassionate than Lady Macbeth, the female role, who normally should display a mild and tender disposition, but instead is sinister and manipulative to…show more content…
When focusing on the word way, however, the passage reveals more about the play’s use of the supernatural elements such as the witches and their foresight and prophecies. “Way” in this context is usually defined as “a solution to, or means of escape from, a problem or difficulty,” which certainly fits in Lady Macbeth’s speech. In this sense, Lady Macbeth simply means that Macbeth will not take the quickest and most accessible route to kingship; killing King Duncan. Another definition that Shakespeare would have been familiar with, however, is “a source of spiritual guidance or direction.” This definition, when used in a pagan sense, connects to the theme of the supernatural throughout the play. Now Lady Macbeth is saying that her husband is too humane and passive to take the witches’ prophecy as truth and take control of his future. “Way” appears in Macbeth’s famous soliloquy in Act 5, Scene 5; “And all our yesterdays have lighted fools / The way to dusty death” (5.5.22-23). The familiar definition of “way” is in use here, but when the alternative definition is applied, one gets the sense that spiritual guidance, or spirits themselves, has brought the fools to their deaths. This all connects to the
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